Whole Dog Journal's Blog January 22, 2018

The 2018 Approved Dry Dog Foods List Explained: Quality VS. Cost

Posted at 04:01PM - Comments: (11)

WDJ's Approved Dry Dog Foods list looks a little different this year. Here is why.

Whole Dog Journal’s review of dry dog food appears in the February issue, every year. And, every February, we try to share new information with WDJ’s readers about how to differentiate between dry dog foods of varying quality, and how to go about selecting the best foods for their dogs. Some of our readers have been with us for a long time; we don’t want to repeat the same information year after year, but strive to share information that is new and interesting, even to people who know a LOT about canine nutrition. But neither do we want to “lose” dog owners who are new to the publication by assuming a level of knowledge of the pet food industry that they don’t yet have.

halo high quality dry dog food

In the February 2018 dry food review, now available to paid subscribers online and in print form, the emphasis is on the cost of quality: what you are paying for with the highest-priced foods, especially as compared to the moderately priced and low-priced foods. To that end, we arranged the list of “approved dry foods” by the average price per pound of each company’s products (instead of the usual list of products arranged in alphabetical order of the name of the product lines). We thought it might be interesting for you to see what products are similarly priced, which are the most expensive, and which of our approved foods are the least expensive.

The emphasis of the February 2017 dry food review (and the October 2016 canned food review) was the significance of a pet food company’s ability or inability to provide consumers with a complete nutrient analysis of their products upon request. As we explained in those reviews, pet food labels are required by law to include the minimum amounts of crude protein and crude fat, and maximum amounts of moisture and fiber that they contain.

However, the labels need not include information about all the other essential nutrients the foods are required to contain in order to be labeled as “complete and balanced.” Instead, the pet food companies need only fill out and sign an affidavit stating that, “This product meets the nutrient levels established in the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for (growth/reproduction, maintenance, or all life stages).” We suggested that, when trying to identify the “best of the best” pet food companies, dog owners should contact their favorite dog food makers and ask them for the complete nutrient analyses of their products, showing that they actually do meet those AAFCO Nutrient Profiles.

pollux high quality dry dog food

In the above-referenced reviews, we asked all of the companies who have had foods on our “approved foods” lists to provide us with these analyses. Some companies readily provided us with that information, and we designated their products as “Gold Star” foods in those reviews. Other companies provided us with computer-generated analyses of the nutrient levels that are expected in their finished foods. That’s something, but a little less than proof positive that those nutrient levels are, in fact, in line with the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles. Those companies also appeared on the “approved foods” lists, but without the “Gold Star” designation.

Companies that provided us with no documentation regarding the nutrient levels in their products were omitted from our “approved foods” lists in those issues.

Some of our readers might be surprised to see that we did not repeat this exercise in our most recent canned food review (November 2017) or dry food review. While we still strongly recommend that consumers call or email the pet food companies that they are most interested in (or whose products they feed to their dogs) and ask for complete nutrient analyses for those foods, in these most recent reviews, we didn’t attempt to gather this information for the hundreds of products made by the dozens of companies who are represented on our lists. The job is simply bigger than we can replicate every year.

For one thing, reaching the appropriate live human who may (or may not) respond to such a request at each of the companies is a massive chore in itself. Tabulating the responses, and following up to make sure that the ones who did not respond actually did receive the request and are simply choosing not to respond is another massive job.

It was even more work to scrutinize the responses to see whether the material that each company sent was actually what we asked for - results from a laboratory test of the food to make sure that it actually contained the nutrients it was supposed to contain, and that meet the AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles. As opposed to a computer-generated analysis of each food’s expected nutrient content, based on its formula.

This is the reason that our 2018 “approved dry food” list has been repopulated with a few companies that did not appear on our 2017 list. We want to be clear: All of these companies offer products that meet all of our regular selection criteria. We still encourage you to contact the companies and ask for the complete nutrient analyses for the foods you feed your dogs – and we promise that it will be an interesting exercise for you!

Perhaps this is something we can crowd-source? In fact, we’d love it if, in the comments below, you would share the response you got when you called the toll-free number for the company that makes your dog’s food and asked for this information.

Comments (11)

None of the dog foods on your 2018 approved dry dog food list has a gold star and I still don't know which one you consider to be the best.

Posted by: pcdahl | August 16, 2018 2:26 PM    Report this comment

I am curious to find out if anyone who feeds Orijen has experienced any issues since they switched from offering US customers food from their Canadian kitchen to the US kitchen in Kentucky? Our active, vibrant and wonderfully fit golden has been on Orijen 6 Fish since she was a little over a year - she is now 12.5 and still runs, hikes, and swims...BUT - since the production move from Canada to Kentucky, she occassionally has "frozen yogurt" poops - we gave her just a little less food each meal, and the situation has resolved for the most part - but every so often she will have a day of soft poops - no other issues at all - same energy, no weight loss etc. I have also noticed that the size and density of the pieces of kibble seems to have changed - as others have noted on Dog Food Advisor, the pieces seem thinner and less dense. My next call is to the company...Does anyone have thoughts or ideas? THANKS!

Posted by: dogwoman | February 16, 2018 5:16 PM    Report this comment

I believe the “gold star” comments are actually referring to the 2017 review.
I would love to see how these foods rank by ingredients that most likely cause allergy sensitivity’s down the road. My vet told me that a lot of the commercial foods contain ingredients that are like top 10 for allergies. I sure would love to learn about that.

Posted by: kyla | January 28, 2018 2:32 PM    Report this comment

The article refers to giving "Gold Stars" to products where nutritional value was freely given by the manufacturer yet I'm not seeing it on any of the foods listed. Is that an editing error or am I missing something?

Side note - while I'm very appreciative of all the hard work that goes into this list and I'm sure you all spend considerable time trying to figure out a way to sort it, I'm with the camp of not preferring the rating by flat out price-per-lb. As mentioned in another comment that can be terribly misleading because it doesn't take into account how nutrient dense the food is, among other factors. We happen to feed Carna4 and yes it's expensive but we do feed less of it than other products, and it's one of the few foods you can find now days that doesn't have pumpkin, which our dog is sensitive to. Thank goodness we only have one and he's only 55lbs and we happen to currently be in a position where we can afford it, but it's worth it to us because all of his pre-existing tummy issues have gone away and my used-to-be finicky eater now is very enthusiastic about mealtime.

Posted by: StephanieG | January 27, 2018 7:15 PM    Report this comment

"I am now curious as to how yours stacks up against Dog Food Advisor. "
For one thing these people have a pet related background unlike the dog food advisor who is a dentist. WDJ don't just read the label of the bag to make their judgment on food but actually do a little more digging on the reason why some foods are better.

Posted by: havenbounce | January 27, 2018 9:52 AM    Report this comment

I used to rely on your approved list though I have not seen it for a couple of years. Lunalf posted that you gave Fromm 1 star and Nancy says Kibbles and Bits 5? While I have not seen the list, I am now curious as to how yours stacks up against Dog Food Advisor.

Posted by: RunsWithBorders | January 26, 2018 6:21 PM    Report this comment

I'll write up my thoughts on the Clean Label Project for next week's blog post. Micro version: Not impressed. Independent lab testing for contaminants is awesome, but the organization doesn't report the actual results. Its scores of each food's "nutritional superiority" are a joke. Someone care to explain how an Orijen food scores 2 stars while a Kibbles N Bits food rates 5 stars? It's nonsensical. Way more detail on this project next week. -- WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns

Posted by: WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns | January 26, 2018 3:53 PM    Report this comment

I think if you read the clean label project one of the things it also grades the product nutrition. Purina scores low.

Posted by: ChloeandDaffodil95 | January 26, 2018 8:32 AM    Report this comment

Further to the poster above who cites the "Clean Label Project," I just looked at it. How can it possibly be that Purina and crap food we have all come to know is at the top of the list with 5 stars, and Wellness, for example, has only 3 stars. This is really confusing me, and I would love for the WDJ to comment on this. Thank you.

Posted by: Lunalf | January 25, 2018 4:31 PM    Report this comment

I have relied heavily upon the annual Dry Dog Foods List and tend to offer Fromm to my dogs. In a recent post on PetMD Jennifer Coates wrote "Is Your Pet's Food Safe?" and described results of the Clean Label Project research. "The organization screened more than 900 dog and cat foods and treats for over 130 toxins “including heavy metals, BPA, pesticides, and other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions in both humans and animals.”

I looked at Fromm dog foods and found it had a one-start (lowest) rating due to toxic contaminants, though the specific contaminants were not identified. This concerns me as I am left wondering how to find dry dog foods that meet WDJ standards and passed muster with the Clean Label Project.

Would WDJ consider publishing an article to help us (pet stewards) sort this out? Linda P. Case just wrote a helpful article "Digestibility Matters" looking at dog food quality from the perspective of digestion and nutrient value.
As a scientist perhaps she would be a good person to tackle this. Thank you.

Posted by: 1wyldhaven@gmail.com | January 25, 2018 2:49 PM    Report this comment

Quick question - is the calorie content per pound of all the dry foods roughly the same? If not, organizing the list on a "cost per calorie" basis (rather than cost per pound) would be better. It would allow me to compare the cost for the amount of each food my dog actually needs to eat.

(In my experience, nutrient-dense food sometimes actually costs only a little more than junk because you feed so much less of it. So I always compare price per calorie.)

Another source of savings: high-quality food, (chosen based on allergy/sensitivity testing), completely eliminated my sensitive pup's need to see the vet every couple of months for a bout of intestinal upset or itchy skin. Harder to put a number on that, but it - and the improved quality of life for my dog!- are also very real benefits.

Posted by: Mzsmail | January 25, 2018 12:08 PM    Report this comment

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